Hadley and I walked into the crowded diner and found our way to a table in the middle of the room late Saturday morning. Hadley had just come off the field after playing his best football game of the season in the Souper Bowl. Now he had just one more opponent to face down — a “Hungry Man” breakfast.
I was basking in the glow of the smile on Hadley’s face. Between the bites of pancakes and bacon, he relived every big play the South Highlands Second Grade Tigers made. With all the enthusiasm of John Madden, he told me about the touchdown pass he threw to John Ashton, the long runs by Will and Micah, and the big tackles and fumble recoveries by the defense. Listening to him talk, it was easy to forget the boys lost the game.
Hadley took a time out for another bite of pancake, I took advantage of the moment to ask “What was the biggest thing you learned playing football this year?”
He put his fork down and gave me a thoughtful look before saying “I learned a lot about teamwork.”
That answer made me put my fork down and think for a minute. I thought he’d say something about the Xs and Os of the game. You see, this was Hadley’s first year of playing football. When the season started, he didn’t know anything about blocking or tackling; he couldn’t tell you the different between a “power right fake 47 sweep quarterback keeper” and a dishtowel. But as he commanded the offense in that Soupier Bowl game, I realized he has earned his nickname “Little Peyton.”
As I replayed the season in my mind, I realized how true it was. it might have taken all season for things to gel, but Coach Eric and Coach Todd transformed a rag-tag bunch of rookies into a tight-knit team. They started out looking like the Bad News Bears. They finished the season looking more like the 1985 Chicago Bears.
I saw that teamwork off the field, too. At Hadley’s birthday party, I saw him and Reid use teamwork to stay alive in a fierce game of dodgeball. I saw teammates from different schools scheduling playdates so they could hang out after the season. I saw the team celebrate just being together at their end-of-the-year party.
No, they might not have won a game on the field. But they learned a lot about winning in life. And at this stage of the game, that’s what football is all about.